Finally cool

I’ve seen a flurry of articles, memes, and quotes lately about introversion — here’s an example from Pinterest.

introverts

And another one.

introvert too

Introversion sounds so much more cool than “shy,” which is what I knew I was long, long ago when my mother tried to coax me to come in to see some friends who were visiting and I hid around the corner. “Show us your doll,” someone said. I promptly threw it around the corner, into the room, much to my mother’s mortification. I’ve been crossing the street or walking the other way to avoid people ever since. I am terrible at small talk, need my alone time, celebrate a little when social plans (with other than my good friends) get cancelled, screen my calls, and have been told to “cheer up” or asked “what’s wrong?” more times than I can remember. (That also has a new name…”bitchy resting face” or BRF. Seriously, I”m fine, people, I just look this way.)

Once in junior high I made a valiant attempt to be outgoing — talked (to boys!), laughed, joked around. It sort of worked — I think people were shocked I could speak. A “frenemy” (we didn’t know to call them that back then, but it SO applies to junior high girls) basically called me out for “copying” her…”Just because I talk and laugh and am friendly doesn’t mean you should.” She needn’t have worried — I think it lasted about a week.

Now, however, it’s gotten kind of cool to be shy introverted. Introverts are not shy, so we’re now told, we’re just drained by social interaction, not afraid of it. We’re thinkers, listeners, writers (hello). Instead of being a negative, now it’s kind of a positive (or at least neutral). I had to laugh when a health & fitness blog writer I follow — a bundle of manic energy if ever there was one — wrote about how she’s really introverted and prefers to be at home (the woman is NEVER at home, posts pictures of herself doing yoga in bikinis, teaches fitness classes, is a personal trainer, etc. But now it’s a thing to be introverted, so…). Yes, introversion has “arrived.”

introverts 3

The majority of my friends are introverts (my husband is neither introverted nor extroverted, but a nice blend of both). We love each other, love to see each other and spend time together, but are just as happy to stay home. I have one dear friend who’s clearly not one of us. Outgoing, friendly, generous, open, speaks her mind (sometimes to a hilarious fault)…can talk to anyone anywhere and make an instant friend. She reached out to me on my first day of work and we’ve been friends ever since — me and a thousand other people. She is a people magnet. I still want to be her when I grow up, no matter how accepted introversion becomes.

In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy this time in the sun. But don’t sit next to me, please, unless I already know you. Don’t invite me to parties with mostly people I don’t know — well, invite me, but know that it will cause me all kinds of angst. Don’t expect me to chat after a long day, when I’m finally sitting down with my laptop and HGTV. (Yes, I work from home, alone, with the cats. But it is work. Work that regularly requires me to interview people — smart people. Perfect strangers. And sound intelligent. And then write about it intelligently. It’s exhausting.)

But do email me — I love to hear from you. Do talk to me on Facebook — I assure you I read ALL of your posts. Do tell me about your life — I’m a great listener. If you want to, ask me about my life. You might have to ask more than once and probe a little — I don’t like to bore people. Do get to know me — I make a great friend. And I’m a cool person. Finally.

“I think he’s lovely,” said Anne reproachfully. “He is so
very sympathetic. He didn’t mind how much I talked —
he seemed to like it. I felt he was a kindred spirit
as soon as I ever saw him.”
“You’re both queer enough, if that’s what you mean
by kindred spirits,” said Marilla with a sniff.
~ L.M. Montgomery,
Anne of Green Gables

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In praise of the talkers

No one would ever describe me as outgoing. I’m a fade-into-the-background kind of person, more an interested observer than an eager participant. I no more strike up conversations with strangers than dye my hair purple.

But you know what? I really like people who are. Who do. That is, I’m always grateful when someone else is the outgoing one. I like to be friendly; I’m just not an initiator. I listen. Others talk.

Take yesterday for instance. Just a mundane trip to the auto shop to have the winter tires put on. I sort of dread going there, because they can be slow and the wait is long. Sometimes I bring my laptop, but there’s no Internet connection, so yesterday I brought a couple magazines to read instead.

Entering the waiting room at 9:00 a.m., I found that somebody was already there. That never happens and I had a moment’s annoyance of “Geez, is it going to take even longer?”

The woman eyed my magazines and greeted me with “Oh, I see you’re in for a wait, too.”

And then she proceeded to talk almost nonstop for the next 80 minutes. In that time, I learned more about her and her life than I know about acquaintances I’ve known for years…

  • Her 82-year-old father had just fallen in the basement the previous night and broken his hip. He wanted to stay on the basement floor overnight, and “just get up tomorrow,” but agreed to go to the hospital when her husband insisted. The ambulance took him to our local hospital, but then he was moved to Pittsburgh because he has heart issues and surgery would be risky. Interestingly, her mother and father have been married for 50-some years and have the same birthday. Her sister (2 years older) usually handles care issues for her parents, including taking her dad to doctor’s appointments and such. When she saw her parents’ number on the caller ID at 9:30 the night before, she knew something was wrong.
  • Her husband’s elderly and in-poor-health mother-in-law lives with them. They moved her up from Florida after her husband’s brother (also in Florida) wanted no parts of caring for her (but he’ll for sure be coming for his share of any inheritance). She’s not trained as a caregiver or anything, but she’s doing what she can. Her mother-in-law is quite a shopper and loves to spend money on junk she doesn’t need (they had to put a shed on their property to hold stuff and it’s already full). And she likes to go out to lunch whenever she can, “while she still can.” Sometimes she’s mean/ornery and says things that make my new friend cry, but then she feels bad and wants to buy her something to make up for it.
  • They live in a split-level house — they use the downstairs as their TV/family room, and her MIL has her space in the living room. It really helps to have separate space!
  • She and her husband have a boat and a small camp at Deep Creek, but they didn’t put the boat in this past year because friends have a bigger boat and they just went out on theirs instead.
  • It’s the second marriage for both of them and her husband’s son is the one who introduced them (she doesn’t like to say “stepson” — they’re all family, and they have a 6-year-old granddaughter — his daughter). She loves her husband to pieces. He buys her nice jewelry (revealed during the Kay commercial), but she almost never wears it because she’s afraid of losing it. He bought her the gold watch she had on.
  • Her son has schizophrenia, diagnosed while he was in college but she thinks it started senior year in high school. They at first thought he was on drugs. He had a very rough time for many years, and she campaigned hard for a long time to have his doctors give him shots. They’ve made a world of difference, and he is like a new person now, at age 30. I should tell anyone I know with similar problems how effective the shots are.
  • She ordered a DQ Blizzard pumpkin cake for Thanksgiving — something different. But she guesses they’ll be celebrating in the hospital with her dad.
  • Her husband’s hours at work are being cut back in January — they’re worried the place may even close. They had just met with an insurance salesman who was trying to sell them more insurance and get them to switch her husband’s retirement money around. They haven’t made any decisions yet, but the $3,000 he said they were entitled to (because her husband is a veteran) sounded pretty good.
  • They recently had to get a new furnace because something blew on the old one and they could easily have been poisoned with CO.

I didn’t get many words in edgewise, though I could empathize with her eldercare issues and such. I just listened, nodded a lot, and made encouraging comments now and then. After about an hour, we were joined by an older gentleman, and she quickly drew him into the conversation as well, commenting on his beautiful head of wavy white hair (it really was nice — he has to get it cut every 3 weeks). He shared similar stories of his sister, age 84, who was also a shopper and buyer of useless stuff — a hoarder of sorts.

At that point, my car was finished, and I got up to leave. I wished them both well, we exchanged “Happy Thanksgivings,” and I went on my way. I should have hugged her, but I’m not that kind of person.

I have no idea what her name was, where she lives, or anything that would enable me to find her if I was so inclined. It’s likely our paths will never cross again. Yet she made quite an impact on me — this nice, friendly, super-talkative woman, age 52. I murmured a little prayer for her and thought about chance encounters and whether they really are “chance.” Had she been a different sort of person — loud, opinionated, unpleasant — the whole experience could have been really annoying. But she wasn’t — and it wasn’t.

Instead, it was an interesting glimpse (well, more than a glimpse) into a stranger’s life. And it reminded me of something particularly appropriate on this, the eve of Thanksgiving…

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
~ Plato